CHICAGO - Koko Taylor, 80, a sharecropper's daughter whose regal bearing and powerful voice earned her the sobriquet "Queen of the Blues," died yesterday at a Chicago hospital after complications from surgery.
Ms. Taylor's career stretched more than five decades. While she did not have widespread mainstream success, she was revered and beloved by blues aficionados, and earned worldwide acclaim for her work, which included the best-selling song "Wang Dang Doodle" and tunes such as "What Kind of Man Is This" and "I Got What It Takes."
Ms. Taylor appeared on national television numerous times. She was the subject of a PBS documentary and had a small part in director David Lynch's Wild at Heart.
In the course of her career, Ms. Taylor was nominated seven times for Grammy awards and won in 1984.
Born Cora Walton just outside Memphis, Ms. Taylor said her dream to become a blues singer was nurtured in the cotton fields outside her family's sharecropper shack.
Orphaned at 11, Koko - a nickname she earned because of an early love of chocolate - at age 18 moved to Chicago with her soon-to-be-husband, Robert "Pops" Taylor, in search for work.
Setting up house on the South Side, she found work as a cleaning woman for a wealthy family living in the city's northern suburbs. At night and on weekends, she and her husband, who would later become her manager, frequented Chicago's clubs.
Her break came in 1962, when arranger/composer Willie Dixon got her a Chess recording contract and produced several singles (and two albums) for her, including the million-selling 1965 hit "Wang Dang Doodle," which she called silly but which launched her recording career.
From Chicago blues clubs, Ms. Taylor took her raucous, gritty, good-time blues on the road to blues and jazz festivals around the nation and into Europe. After the Chess label folded, she signed with Alligator Records.
In most years, she performed at least 100 concerts a year.
"Blues is my life," she once said. "It's a true feeling that comes from the heart, not something that just comes out of my mouth. Blues is what I love, and blues is what I always do."
See more at the